Hip hop does exist on Maui. I know because I once caught a performance of Amphibeus Tungs and friends—in the parking lot of a big show.
The up-and-coming local underground hip hop crew started as two rhymers, or MCs: Easton H. (a.k.a. Quest Eon) and Beau S. (a.k.a. Beau Sun), who’ve been friends since the sixth grade. In high school, they formed P-Town—a crew of five MCs, including two older guys who eventually left the group, along with a friend who passed away shortly after high school.
It was then Easton and Beau realized they had to either get serious or nip their hip-hop dreams in the bud.
“Hip hop is the only music that can describe a certain person, place or thing,” said Easton. “The rhyme tells a story—can bring words to life, paint a reality for you.”
Easton and Beau recorded a demo under the name “Odd Couple.” And they’ve been rhyming—beatboxing, freestyling, ciphering—as the collective Amphibeus Tungs ever since. They’d meet up after clubs, in the parking lot or at parties and just start jamming, with various b-boys and girls joining in.
“People would look at us and think we’re just dumb kids doing stupid shit,” said Easton. “But you can do your art form and poetry on the spot, and let your vocals be your instruments.”
Niko K. (a.k.a. Pazess One) and Jay Pacubas (a.k.a. Jay Peacepipe) are the group’s DJs. Their producer Jai Lewis, or “Freedom,” lays down the outline and finalizes the tracks.
“It’s like a symphony,” said Easton. “Jai makes the beat, sets the mood, [we rhyme] and the DJs scratch, filling in the gaps.”
Although he’s known Easton and Beau the longest, George Jackson, or “Chef,” recently joined the band as their sole ‘ukulele player. They got the idea from impromptu jam sessions at the beach, where Easton would rhyme over George’s ‘uke.
“I rhyme different because of the ‘uke sound,” said Easton. “Especially when there’s no beat. [Instead] I’ve gotta catch the fingernail clack of his strumming.”
Amphibeus Tungs insist they just want to make good music that people will appreciate—the kind they say takes time, as well as “blood, sweat and tears.”
“We’re not trying to appeal to the masses,” said Easton. “We want the masses to appeal to us. We’re making new stuff.”
“Don’t mistake it for the crunk on the radio,” said George. “We all know the music on the radio sucks—it sounds the same.”
“We’re talking about poets and MCs,” said Easton. “Not rappers. We give ‘em props for making music but when you sell your soul, wearing chains and shit, it’s cheesy.”
In the energetic, crowd-riling track “Burn It Down,” Easton and Beau incite people to be aware of political injustices to Hawai’i, its land and its people—cautioning of what’s becoming increasingly inevitable on Maui.
“People are building all over the islands—Beau likes to call Oahu, ‘a microchip,’” said Easton. “It’s just ugly. That’s not paradise at all. And that’s what we’re turning into.”
In the song, the MCs talk of wanting to “fight the persecutors” and to right the “wrongdoings to all walks of life.” Ultimately, they give an effective and impassioned plea to burn it all down.
“Not literally,” said Easton. “I just feel like saying ‘fuck you’ to everything sometimes… So actually Amphibeus Tungs is trying to rid the world of evil and make good music while we’re at it. We’re like superheroes!”
And like most superheroes, they’re also currently recording an album, entitled First Impressions. But Easton is uncharacteristically cagey about its release date.
“It comes out,” said Easton, “when it comes out.”
Recently, Amphibeus Tungs have evolved into opening for well-known visiting mainland groups like Digital Underground, Beat Junkies, Living Legends, Zion-I and the Visionaries. And yet, local hip hop is struggling to find its place amongst the reggae, Jawaiian and cover band-inundated clubs at home, to say nothing of being taken seriously abroad.
“We like being the undergrounds, you know,” said Easton. “Plus, we’re from Maui so we take it with a grain of salt. They think we’re all palm trees and coconuts out here.”
“Grass huts and canoes,” said George, agreeing. MTW